Initially deployed in three squadrons - with bases in in Kunming, Taungoo in central Burma, and Rangoon, the Flying Tigers were as formidable on the ground as in the air. Equal parts relentless pursuit pilots and rakish, comic-book heroes, the men of the AVG exuded two-fisted energy - and a formidable lack of discipline. As mercenaries outside the restrictions of the army, they flew in cowboy boots and rumpled, oil-stained khakis, dressing in full uniform only for funerals. At night in Rangoon, they scandalized British officers by wearing loud Hawaiian-print shirts and drinking hard with local girls at the tony Silver Lake Grill. Other times, after a few dozen drinks, AVG pilots might be seen riding domesticated water buffalo down the streets of Rangoon shouting "Ya-hoo!" In Kunming and Taungoo, they killed time drinking bootleg whiskey and Carew's Gin and, if no worthy opponents could be found, playing baseball, basketball, and fistfighting among themselves.
One booze-soaked evening in Rangoon, several AVG pilots convinced the captain of an American C-47 cargo plane to make an unscheduled bombing run on Hanoi. Loading the ungainly aircraft with discarded French, Russian, and Chinese ordinance (and plenty of liquor), they proceeded over their target in darkness, kicking bombs from the plane's passenger door between swigs of drink.
After Rangoon fell and all three squadrons of the AVG became based in Kunming, they kept up their unruly ways with their commander's tacit approval. They'd affectionately taken to calling Chennault "Old Leatherface," and the AVG's afternoon baseball scrimmages and nightly poker games (which Chennault often won) were Kunming's social hot spot.
Meanwhile, in the air, the Tigers remained even scrappier and more resourceful than on the ground. Because they didn't have spare aircraft, Flying Tiger planes were soon heaps of scavenged parts, their pilots sometimes filling Japanese bullet holes with wads of chewing gum and adhesive tape. To deceive the enemy into thinking the AVG had countless aircraft, the Americans repainted their propellers new colors every week. And since the P-40s possessed no bomb racks, pilots crafted incendiary "gifts" for the Japanese of gasoline-filled whisky bottles that they'd ignite and toss from their cockpits. Other times, they'd drop homemade pipe bombs onto Japanese encampments.
Before long, Radio Tokyo was calling the American pilots "unprincipled bandits," and demanding that, unless these tactics were halted, the Americans would be "treated as guerrillas" — implying execution if captured. By early 1942, the Japanese vowed to destroy "all two hundred planes" possessed by the Flying Tigers, despite the AVG having only twenty-nine aircraft in commission at the time.
Tuesday, April 25, 2017
AVG pilots might be seen riding domesticated water buffalo down the streets of Rangoon shouting "Ya-hoo!"
From The Burma Road by Donovan Webster. From page 64, describing the deployment of the American Volunteer Group (the famous "Flying Tigers").